Let Us Now Praise a (Not So) Famous Man

You probably didn't know Dan Jenkins. I didn't either, really. But I have to talk about him. I'm given only 700 words in this space, and I've spent every day since last Thursday thinking of how to

You probably didn't know Dan Jenkins. I didn't either, really. But I have to talk about him.

I'm given only 700 words in this space, and I've spent every day since last Thursday thinking of how to fill it. Then, on Friday, a friend at the Main Public Library showed me a clipping of an obituary, and I knew what I had to do.

The name in the headline was only vaguely familiar, but one look at the photo — the eyes disappearing into the subdued smile, the receding hairline and snow-white goatee — and I knew it was that Dan Jenkins.

It was a day less than a full week since I'd met Dan for the first time. Serendipitously, we'd seen one another twice in the same weekend after having never met at all.

On the evening of our first introduction, Dan's wife, Kathy Wade, was a sequined butterfly in Music Hall Ballroom, working the room like a squealing, bear-hugging politician. Everyone was decked out.

It was a mellowed-out, black-tie affair. I felt like a grown-up.

We were there to see Wade and Jazz legend Shirley Horn perform as part of the main fund-raiser for Wade's baby, Learning Through Art, Inc. Wade calls the project "The 'Hood Is Bigger Than You Think," and that night was the finale, her crown jewel.

All kinds of dreams came true that night. After the show, Wade made it possible for me to meet and sit with Ms. Horn in her dressing room. I met Wade's mother and coincidentally sat at a table with her father, who introduced me to Wade's brother, Sylvester.

I went from having a solely professional relationship with Wade to catching a glimpse of her life away from the stage. Everyone comes from somewhere, the introductions seemed to echo.

And as her adrenaline drained after the head rush of planning, implementing and participating in such an event, Wade was running on sheer will afterwards. She grabbed garment bags, gathered congratulatory bouquets of flowers and hugged and thanked everyone in sight.

And there stood Jenkins, quietly standing by his wife's side smiling and basking. She introduced us, and he knowingly raised an eyebrow at the mention of my name. It was cool to finally meet the man who stood and worked beside Kathy Wade, a woman known for her tenacity and professionalism.

What must that guy be like, I thought as I finally left the ballroom, floating after a night of nightclub Jazz.

The very next day at the Black Family Reunion, I barely recognized Wade and Jenkins in their shorts, jeans, T-shirts and sandals strolling hand-in-hand. I nudged my friend and said, "Isn't that Kathy Wade and her husband?"

We all greeted each other again, less than 24 hours after the gala. Walking on, I wondered if Jenkins ever felt like "Mr. Kathy Wade."

Then, as I read in his obituary how they met and how he aided in breathing reality into Wade's dreams of using music as an educational tool, I knew he was among that population of black men rarely spoken or written about: secure, intelligent, nurturing and, yes, average.

Here was a hard-working black man who valued family and education and the possibilities each afforded the other. He reminds me of my two brothers — no hustling, no BS and no running away from truths or responsibilities.

Yes, they do exist.

The real tragedy, of course, is that Dan Jenkins, 52, died suddenly of a heart attack before he got to lay eyes on his first grandchild, before the mayhem and exhilaration of organizing another fund-raiser, before another cup of coffee with his wife or before returning from vacation in Mexico, where he died.

This all makes me feel particularly fragile yet inspired. It just goes to show how quickly love and life ebb and flow. Everyone stops and pauses, their breath catching in their chests when they hear of such losses.

"Did you hear about Kathy Wade's husband?" people asked in hushed tones.

But what of the days following the burial? Death is synonymous for so many things, most of all change. So now that Jenkins is gone, will we change our lifestyles, our thinking, our perceptions, our work habits, our loving?

Dan Jenkins was one of those brothas we all need to remember. His death says don't slide down that slippery slope populated by generalizations about the sorry state of black manhood or the shadowy presence of "good" black men.

We had one. He left his legacy quietly and with a smile.

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